Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Into the Mystic?

There's an age-old tension between mysticism and scholarship. The mystic believes that he can understand existence (and obey inspiration) by himself. That he does not need to learn anything about it by reading books. He simply needs to discover (and decide) what his body can (and may) do (and, dammit, see ... sometimes pangrammatical composure is a pedantic nuissance!).

The scholar would have you learn Sanskrit to study dharma, German to study Dasein, Spanish to study duende. The mystic would have you seek the answers within yourself. You would simply study your own existence.

There's something odd about presuming to actually face "the problem of existence" directly, in one's own case. I think the scholar assumes that the problem of existence has been solved in his own case, but that it is interesting to investigate in the case of others (Buddha, Heidegger, Lorca ... a strange list, I know). The mystic feels the need to face it himself.

The "guru" differs from "the professor" in that the guru's authority derives from a personal journey of enlightenment. The scholar does not pretend to "be enlightened", but is nonetheless able to transmit the insight contained in a particular tradition.

Lorca and Heidegger are hybrids. On the one hand, they practice arts (poetry, philosophy) that have an authoritative tradition, one that they have clearly mastered and respect. On the other, they seem (and are often read) as having some special access to the profound mystery at the bottom of everything.

We read them as though they lived their lives somehow closer to their being and becoming, their existence and their inspiration. Not just as men who read a lot of books.

Compare Williams and Wittgenstein, whose art of suffering lay in their eschewal of both mysticism and scholarship. Perhaps their mysticism was simply more thorough?


j. said...

i would introduce the idea of preparation here. (thinking of foucault or hadot.)

Andrew Shields said...

So what does this tell us about Van Morrison? :-)